Selling Wine Shouldn't Be Rocket Science

selling wine in restaurants

Selling wine can dramatically increase your guest check average and thereby your income.

Why is selling wine so challenging for most servers? If you are like most servers it is likely because you have a fear of grapes. Well, don’t fear this sweet, round, delicious fruit any more; Waiter Wallet is here to help. When I took a public speaking my professor suggested that I conquer my fear by imaging the audience in their birthday suit. Well, believe it or not, this strange notion actually helped me overcome society’s number one fear. So what does a nude audience have to do with selling wine? And no, I’m not suggesting you envision nude guests (though my professor might disagree). Imagine, rather, wine “nude.” Stripped of all its vintages, regions, producers and fancy labels wine is simply grape juice. Now, with all the pomp and circumstance removed from the equation, we are on our way to being wine experts (or at least confident enough to suggest wine to your guests). The first (and perhaps the most important) step is you believing that you’re an expert, even if you may not be. This belief, coupled with a little bit of knowledge, will make you an expert to 95% of your guests (assuming you don’t work at The French Laundry). It’s all about having confidence in yourself. Please note, I am not advocating that you present yourself as a sommelier but rather as someone who knows what they are saying which, when you follow this instruction, you will. Relax, selling wine does not require that you memorize your entire wine list and know everything about each bottle including how it pairs with food. That said, you do have to know a lot about a few bottles on your list. Like a magician, the illusion is created by what is revealed to the audience, not what isn’t. Knowing 6 to 10 bottles backwards and forwards will, when presented properly, create an illusion of expertise far greater the few bottles you have in your current repertoire. The Waiter Wallet Bottle Wine Template is an amazing tool for selling wine as well. This template allows you to detail eight styles of wine and three bottles for each style. We recommend choosing a low, medium and high priced bottle for each style. With this template in hand you will have a wealth of information at your fingertips. So, no matter whom the guest is and what their budget, you will have it covered. Note: even if you use this template you should have those six to ten bottles down cold. And, once you’re master those bottles, move on to ten more and so on. Before you know it, you’ll have your list down. So let’s begin; with the help of a restaurant manager, chef and especially the Internet, pick out the best bottles on your list. “Best” doesn’t mean the most expensive. In fact, pointing out a hidden gem with a great story can be even more effective. When determining the “best” bottles it is also important to consider who your guests are and how much they would be willing to spend. Knowing your restaurant and reading your guests is critical to not only recommending the best wine but for determining the kind of experience they want for their meal. This brings me to another tip; select at least two bottles of wine for each given category of wine. The first bottle you choose, a Chardonnay for example, should be a wine that is close to the cost of your average wine by glass (times 4, which is likely how your restaurant prices its bottles). Your second choice should be a more expensive bottle but an approachable step up, say a $65 bottle. Recommending a $100 bottle of wine to guests that would likely not spend more then $50 isn’t going to be very productive. However, when presented properly, that $65 bottle is a wine your table would likely step up to. If not, then move down to that $50 bottle, which should also be great choice. Depending on your guests, you might want to go directly to the $50 bottle or a $200 bottle. While every table will be different you will soon develop a sixth sense that will become your best friend. Reading your table is also important in determining what to sell and when. For example, if you think your guests are going to stick with whatever drink they first order, you want to go all in with your wine recommendations. The challenge is, at this juncture of their meal, they likely haven’t decided on what they want to eat. This makes pairing food with wine nearly impossible. This may or may not mean anything to your guests. They might just drink whatever they drink. Still, if they are ordering wine, it might not be a bad idea to mention wine pairing. While you want to get a beverage order as soon as possible, you also should want the food and wine to work well together. With a subtle mention, you are telling your guests you want the best experience for them and you have the knowledge and expertise to provide it. When selling wine it is also important to consider your restaurant’s menu and its most popular dishes when selecting your “best” bottles. For example, if you work in a steakhouse it would not be wise to focus on white wines. Likewise, if you work at fish house reds wouldn’t be the way to go. Again, if you are uncomfortable pairing food with wine your managers would not only be a great resource but they would likely admire your initiative. Now, what should you know about your 6 to 10 bottles? First there is the obvious; the style of the wine, what menu items it works with and why, the vintage (year it was made) and why it was a good one (and it should be a good one). Equally important, you should know something interesting about the producer. This is where the story comes from. Again, the Internet is perhaps the best tool for this. In choosing which wines to focus on, consider who the producers are and what makes them special. Another option is to make your selection personal. For example, if you had the opportunity to visit the winery, there is nothing better than a personal story about your amazing experience there. The key is not to be too verbose or pushy. Just deliver your interesting yarn with passion. For example, it could go something like this… “We still have a few bottles the 2013 Far Niente Estate Chardonnay. The 10 month French Oak aging giving the wine a wonderfully buttery finish that perfectly complements the lady’s lobster as well as your filet of sole.” Pause to let them process the selection then add a little story. “An interesting note about Far Niente, they have 40,000 square feet of caves to age their wines that are impossible to capture in above-ground buildings… Can I start you off with a bottle?” All of this information and more took just minutes to find the Far Niente website. Just Google each bottle, find some interesting facts about the wine and winemaker and, most importantly, put it in your own words. Additionally, there are often clues guests unconsciously provide that will help make selling wine even easier. A very common and highly effective clue is when two or more guests order the same (or similar) wine by the glass. When this happens you should suggest a bottle in the price range of the wine they selected. You should also point out that, in addition to being a better bottle (which it should be) it offers guests a better value since most establishments price their wine based on four glasses and not the five glasses bottles actually contain. A nice way to present this to guests is follows: “A suggestion. As you are both enjoying the Chardonnay, may I suggest a bottle of 2013 Far Niente Estate? In addition to being an exceptional value it has subtle, tropical flavors and a uncommon richness.” Again, all of this information was derived, almost verbatim, from their website. Another perfect time to sell wine to guests is when more than one guest orders the same style of wine. All you need to do is suggest a half bottle. This often-overlooked selling wine technique is perfect when guests don’t want to commit to a full bottle. Perhaps, they don’t want to consume that much or, even better, they want to move to a different bottle later in their meal. Half bottles not only increase your sales but also provide your guests with the old-world elegance of wine service. While we are on the subject of wine service, don’t be afraid of this either, practice makes perfect. Ask your bartender if they have any wine by the glass bottles they would like you to open for them. Or, practice it in the privacy of your own home. In addition to learning how to open a bottle, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Sorry for the pun, but it’s true. Here is a suggestion; ask your restaurant if they will sell you bottles off their list. I used to work at a restaurant that encouraged this by discounting the wine to us so we became familiar with it. Oh, and if you are not sure how to properly open a bottle of wine, here is a great video to teach you how.

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